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Ash, Downtown's Latest Bar, and its Offerings Aren't to Be Missed 

click to enlarge DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel

Headed by Olaf Harmel, the former mixologist mastermind behind Blue Box at the Pearl, the bar Ash, located below Smoke’s downtown restaurant, is the new place to drink in San Antonio. And soon, after the addition of a secret door, patrons will visit with Harmel inside Ember Room.

Though the ambience is sultry, the vision of the bar is bright. Harmel organizes the weekday menu into a triptych: Beer/Wine, Sippers and Cocktails. Split into 13 sub-categories, the offerings align themselves horizontally into analogous drink pairings. In other words, once you find a beer/wine, sipper or cocktail that sounds appealing, all you have to do is look to the left or right on the menu to find similar tasting offerings.

The end result plays out like an alcoholic Pandora station. Like Dox XX? You’ll enjoy the accompanying “El Chino” ($6) or “Pear Noir” ($10). A Miller Lite guy? Look right to find the “Cracker Jack” ($6), or further in that direction to eye the “Toffee Old Fashioned” ($12).

Designed to pair like with like, every drink has two partners of similar taste profiles. These groupings can work one of two ways: If an offering piques your curiosity, the menu might suggest the familiar (“Fireball”? Here’s a cocktail with cinnamon notes); or, the it might pair a drink that complements — though not mirrors—the original choice (heady “Shiner Bock”? Try a fruity “Rye County.”) The end result: A masterfully crafted alcoholic personalization.

On the night I visited, a warm summer evening, a “Jasmine Cordial” ($7) sounded like the crisp, tart slap my tired taste buds needed. Floral and sweet in several soft, honeyed ounces, I found myself refreshed, brightened, pillowed. With Harmel’s encouragement, the “Treana” ($8), a green cousin of Chardonnay, led smoothly into “White Chocolate” ($12), a delicate, champagne-based cocktail imbued with whispers of chocolate and soft bourbon.

click to enlarge DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel
After acknowledging Harmel’s aptitude for pairings, I gamely agreed to a Miller Lite ($5).  A “Cracker Jack” ($6) soon followed, then the “Toffee Old Fashioned” ($12), and I found myself identifying the sweet, cold corn effluence of light beer for what felt like the first time.

In successfully elevating a Miller Lite, Harmel’s mission revealed itself. Aiming not to change what you drink, but to extend the path of your taste buds beyond where they’ve been before, Harmel wants to give you what you want, whether or not you know what that is. As he says, the most important ingredient in every drink is the drinker. 

Ash is located at 1170 E. Commerce St., (210) 253-9919; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. daily

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